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Published by Congregation Israel of Springfield NJ, 2019-09-29 15:56:28



Rei’ach HaSadeh

Volume Three: Hearing the Voice


Editorial Board
Diane Osen Covkin
Adam Reich
Adam L. Sheps
Aron Srolovitz
Rabbi, Congregation Israel of Springfield
Chaim Marcus

Copyright © 2019 – Congregation Israel of Springfield
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or
transmitted, in any form or by any means whatsoever without the prior
permission, in writing, from the editors.
Cover Design, production and printing:
Ganz/Gross – NY
Printed in the United States of America

A publication of

Congregation Israel of Springfield

Congregation Israel of Springfield (“CIS”) is a dynamic Modern Orthodox Congregation
which takes pride in providing a warm, friendly environment in which to appreciate
the meaning of Judaism. Our Shul is committed to embracing Judaism through
observance, prayer, study, and chesed.

Rei’ach HaSadeh

Volume Three: Hearing the Voice

Supporters of Rei’ach HaSadeh 1
Editors’ Introduction
Message from the Rabbi 5
Hearing the Sound of Silence
Aron Srolovitz 28
Intelligent Disobedience 43
Judy Cohen Sandman
Your Thought Feed: HaShem’s Voice is Your Voice 58
Zev Bannett 65
A Joyful Heart is Good Medicine: 73
Reflections on Illness as Metaphor 82
Diane Osen Covkin
Do Some Signs from Heaven Really Come from Hell?
David Kohn
Fate and Destiny:
Theodicy in Rav Soloveitchik’s Kol Dodi Dofek
Henny Bochner
Does G-d Speak Directly to People Today?
Dr. Rachel Kohn
Shamayim Min HaTorah
Reuven Pepper
Prayer and Hester Panim: The Hidden Power Within
Avi Borenstein

Hearing God Through Song: 98
Bridging the Gap from the Mundane to the Spiritual 101
Jennifer R. Cahn
HaKol MiShamayim: Listening With Your Heart 106
Elana Erez 111
The Remaining Sons 113
Robert Goldberg 120
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and Hitbodedut: 123
A Practice of Communicating with HaShem 128
Adam Greiss
Connecting to Avinu Malkeinu 134
Samantha, Jordana & Noah Hanover
Don’t Talk! Sh Sh! Just LISTEN
Ben Hoffer
How to Hear the Call of G-d Today
Moshe B. Rosenwein
‫עורו ישנים משינתכם‬: The Call of the Shofar
Willie Roth
Moshe’s Nuclear Family: The Challenge of Responsibility
Noam Zeffren
“Surely God is Present in this Place!”:
Hearing HaShem in the Land of Israel
Cheryl Becker
A Voice of Reason: A Poem for Our Son’s Bar Mitzvah
Clara Harelik Mevorah


Dedicated in memory of:
Melvin Hanover

‫משה מרדכי בן יצחק יעקב‬

Dorothy Hanover
‫דבורה בת בנימין‬

May their neshamot have an aliyah.

Sheila & Adam Hanover


Dedicated to the honor and success of our beloved children:
Danielle, Raphael and Liam

Gila & Victor Dishy


Dedicated in memory of our loving grandparents
and their life-long commitment to

Torah learning, Jewish education and communal life.

Julius and Grace Rosenzweig a”h
Maurice and Ruth Rotenberg a”h
Harry and Bernice Scharaga a”h

Ben and Basia Wittenberg a”h

May their memories continue to be a
source of inspiration for us and our children.

Daniella & Scott Wittenberg


“Rabbi Meir said: Whoever occupies himself with the Torah for its own sake merits
many things; not only that, but he is worth the whole world. He is called beloved friend;

one that loves G-d; one that loves humankind; one that gladdens G-d; one that
gladdens humankind. And the Torah clothes him in humility and reverence, and

equips him to be righteous, pious, upright and trustworthy.”
- Pirkei Avot 6:1

In memory of our beloved Rabbi, teacher, mentor and role model

An ever-flowing spring of wisdom and kindness

A fount of understanding and good counsel

They meant the world to us.
May their memories be a blessing always.

Diane & Rick Covkin


In gratitude to all our teachers who taught us the
value of learning and gave us a desire to learn.
With special gratitude to our parents and grandparents
who instilled these values in us through championing us,
teaching others, and continuing to be lifelong learners themselves.
And in honor of our children, who continue to teach us every day.

In memory of:

Rabbi Michael Hecht z”l
Lottie & Morris Diamant z”l

Ida & Ludwig Hecht z”l
Esther & Borris Baum z”l

Frieda Greenberg z”l
Max Kigner z”l

Alisa & Jeffrey Kigner


Dedicated in honor of
Rabbi Chaim & Lea Marcus and our Kehillah.

Linda & Bob Goldberg


Dedicated is in the zechut of a ‫ רפואה שלמה‬for

‫דניאלא ברכה זהבה בת פייגא לאה‬



‫ְוהחוּט ַה ְמ ֻשׁ ָּלשׁ לֹא ִב ְמ ֵה ָּרה ִי ָּנ ֵתק׃‬

A threefold chord is not easily broken! – Ecclesiastes 4:12

This year’s Rei’ach HaSadeh is presented with a special sense of joy
and accomplishment. In the Talmud (Bava Batra 29a), the term chazakah in a
legal context refers to the transfer of property; specifically, if a person
dwells on property for three years without anyone contesting his presence,
then that person may claim ownership of the land. Today, we apply this
concept more broadly both spiritually and practically. When someone
performs an action three times in a row – with intention – we say there has
been a chazakah, a precedent set. Significantly, the root of chazakah is chazak,
which means strength. It is our hope that this third volume of
Congregation Israel of Springfield’s Rei’ach HaSadeh will establish a strong
precedent for our community to continue learning and growing together.


The Jewish people are often referred to as “The People of the
Book.” Yet prior to our commitment to our texts, we were the “People of
the Voice.” Whether it was when God spoke to Abraham (Genesis 12:1) or
when God spoke to all of Benei Yisra’el at Har Sinai (Exodus 20:1) and Benei
Yisra’el responded in kind, our nation was formed by speech. The
dissemination of our weltanschauung1 began with HaShem communicating
directly to the Avot, transitioned into His speaking directly with Moses and
then by delivering messages through the Prophets:

The voice of Israel became that of its prophets, listening to
the still, small voice of God and proclaiming that voice to
the people. The prophetic voice became the voice of the
Rabbis, the voice of the schoolhouse and the voice of
the minyan, the voice of the halakhic makhloket and the
voice of the aggadic derashah. The national voice became
the voice of exile, the proclamations of the martyr and the
shouts of the mourner. Today, the voice of dispersion
sings in cacophony with the voice of the returned people –

1 German word meaning a particular overreaching philosophy, view of life or the worldview
of an individual or group.

xiv Rei’ach HaSadeh

both voices are proud and confident, if out of sync. While
the Book provides the source material, the Voice brings it
to the world. We are a People of the Book, but the voice is
our trade.2

Today, however, many, if not all of us, struggle to hear HaShem’s
Voice in our lives. Either we cannot distinguish that sound from the
constant physical and psychological noises that ambush us, or we have
become deaf even in the moments of silence – or both. However, it is in
that struggle that we must seek the Voice. We must seek it out through
using our own voices and our own efforts. While there are many different
approaches – and we should pursue them! – one path is surely to embrace
Torah learning and self-improvement: “When we pray, we speak to God.
When we study Torah, God speaks to us.”3

In addition to the general emphasis this publication places on
reconnecting to both our spiritual roots and each other through the
dissemination of Torah scholarship, this year’s Rei’ach HaSadeh aims to
explore the ways in which HaShem has communicated with Benei Yisroel
throughout history and speaks to us today. In Articles, Essays and
Reflections, our authors boldly, bravely and deftly address this topic,
examining everything from theodicy, to Tanach, to how to recognize
HaShem’s message. We hope they will inspire you to learn, to listen and to
hear the Voice of HaShem in your life.


The journal begins with lengthy articles by writers who adopted a
scholarly approach to the material. This section is followed by essays in
which the writers shared both their own interpretations and opinions. The
journal concludes with reflections by writers who recounted personal
experiences germane to this year’s theme.

The writers, from a variety of backgrounds, were encouraged to use
either the Ashkenazi “saf” or the modern Israeli/Sephardic “taf,” as they
saw fit. We also encouraged their preferred usage of the various English
names for God. The transliteration of Hebrew and Aramaic words into

2 Dan Juten, “The Voice and the Sword: A Meta-Narrative in Rashi,” The Lehrhaus, July 15,
2019 available at
3 While preparing this Introduction, variations of this quote were found to be attributed to at
least three 20th Century Rabbis and is oft-quoted by the R. Chaim Marcus.

Editor’s Introduction xv

English derives mainly from the rules of the Torah U-Madda Journal,4 with a
few exceptions to promote the ease of reading for the typical reader.
Pessukim (verses) directly quoting Tanach include nekudot (vowels), while
quotations from the Gemara and other sources do not include nekudot. All
references to the Talmud are from the ‫( תלמוד בבלי‬Babylonian Talmud)
unless otherwise noted.

To benefit readers without a Hebrew background, prefixes (other
than HaShem and HaSadeh) are written in the lower case, with the main
word capitalized. This distinction is meant to aid the understanding of
important Jewish terminology and the Hebrew language.

We are especially grateful to all those who worked hard and helped
to make this edition of Rei’ach HaSadeh a reality: specifically our Journal and
Article sponsors, for their enthusiasm and support; Rabbi Chaim Marcus
for his wisdom, insights and guidance; and Tuvia Ganz for his striking
cover design and production.
We envision that this journal will engender contemplation,
reflection and inspiration in response to the words of diverse and dynamic
writers. Their views, however, do not necessarily reflect those of the

4 Available at:



In halachah, doing something three times represents a chazakah. Therefore,
when holding the third edition of Rei’ach HaSadeh in our hands, we must recognize how
significant it is and we must all give special hakaras hatov to the people whose
dedication and efforts have made such a high-quality communal Torah journal a reality.
Once again, tremendous yasher ko’ach to our amazing editors, Diane Covkin, Adam
Sheps and Rav Aron Srolovitz, for their herculean hard work to encourage even greater
Talmud Torah in our Kehillah. They have given hours upon hours of intensive labor
to bring this beautiful journal to completion. Additional thanks to their supportive
families, and all the sponsors of the sefer. May all the Torah and chesed they have
inspired, and will inspire, stand as a zechus for them, and may Hashem bestow His
bountiful blessings upon them and their entire mishpachos.

Because the first editions of our Kehillah’s Rei’ach HaSadeh were
focused on tefillah and chesed, it is only appropriate that this year’s is centered
around ‘Hearing the Voice.’ The topic is one that can be interpreted in various
ways, and I would like to analyze one mitzvah that I believe epitomizes
hearing G-d’s Call.

The Gemara (Bava Kama 82a), as interpreted by the Rambam
(Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Tefillah 12:1), tells us that soon after Yetzias Mitzrayim,
a passuk relaying that the Benei Yisra’el went three days in the desert without
water (Exodus 15:22), is in fact referring to their lack of spiritual
nourishment. The Jewish People were suffering because they traveled for
three days without any Torah study – and due to the damaging effect of this
deficiency, Moshe Rabbeinu enacted that the Jewish People should never
again go three days without Torah study. He established public Torah
readings every Monday, Thursday and Shabbos.

It is extremely noteworthy that Moshe Rabbeinu felt it necessary to
innovate such a system. Moshe is known as the deliverer of the law, not the
creator of the law. Hence, his personal enactments demand significant

I have heard many times from my rebbe, Rav Hershel Schachter shlita,
that the ‘Rav,’ Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik zt”l, would often
comment that a Jew’s hashkafas haChayim, his or her outlook on life, must be
developed by the halachah that the Jew lives day in and day out. Thus, if we
want to begin to understand the meaning behind any mitzvah, such as the
tri-weekly kerias haTorah schedule established by Moshe, we should examine

2 Rei’ach HaSadeh

some of the halachos that guide its observance. I would like to suggest that
there are three particular areas that help us find a deeper message in this

1. The Requirement for a Minyan
In various sources in the Gemara, Rambam, and Shulchan Aruch
it is clear that kerias haTorah requires a minyan of ten men over
the age of Bar Mitzvah, but why is this so? If this mitzvah was
established to ensure that people studied Torah, why does it
have to specifically be in the context of a public gathering?

2. Number of Aliyos and Pessukim
The Gemara instructs that every public Torah reading must
contain a minimum of three aliyos – one each for a Kohen,
Levi, and Yisrael – and it has to be comprised of at least ten
pessukim. Where do these numbers come from? What is the
significance of these requirements?

3. The Standing Debate
In Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 146:4), we find a debate
between the Mechaber and the Rama as to whether it is
preferable to stand while the Torah is being read. There is no
argument that one must rise out of respect for the Torah while
it is being transported, so the debate regarding standing during
reading is not a function of respect, but of something else.

These different halachos guiding our observance of the mitzvah of
kerias haTorah point not merely to the opportunity for people to learn
Torah, but to something different. It is the Bach (Orach Chaim 141) who
suggests, based on the Zohar, that although it is not a requirement, it is
certainly recommended that the listeners stand as the Torah is being read.
He quotes the Zohar that every time a Jew listens to the kerias haTorah, it is
as if he is receiving the Torah from Har Sinai. To be able to imagine and
feel this more fully it is ideal to stand, as we know that at kabbalas haTorah,
the entire nation was standing around the mountain.

The Taz (Orach Chaim 146:4(1)) brings another source, from a later
point in Jewish History, as the paradigm which we emulate during public
Torah readings. In the book of Nechemia (Ch. 8), we find Ezra haSofer
gathering all the Jews together to listen to his reading from the Torah -- and
the passuk there explicitly states that they were all standing. [Granted, while the
Gemara (Sotah 39a) makes clear that ‘standing’ in that context implies respectful

Message From the Rabbi 3

silence, the Taz and the Levush both argue that the simple meaning of the verse cannot be
abandoned, and the novelty of the Gemara is that the people stood in respectful silence.]
Ezra haSofer was recreating the national covenant at the beginning of the
Second Commonwealth through his kerias haTorah, and it is this same
feeling that we aim to experience through our public Torah readings.

According to the Bach and the Taz, these two major events in
Jewish history – the Revelation at Sinai, and the reforging of our national
identity by Ezra at the beginning of the Second Beis HaMikdash – are what
connect us to kerias haTorah. Therefore, we now can understand the other
halachos we mentioned above: every Torah reading must be in the presence
of ten men, and it must include at least three aliyos, one for a Kohen, one
for a Levi, and one for a Yisra’el, because every experience of kerias haTorah
is a recreation of the Divine Covenant forged with the Jewish People at
Sinai. This was a covenant that took place with the entirety of the nation
present; and thus in its recreation it is represented by the minyan and a
special role for each type of Jew. Similarly, these requirements recall Ezra’s
renewed charge to the Jewish People to rise to their divinely mandated
roles, with each person being an integral part of the nation.

Continuing the parallels, we know that at Har Sinai there were
Aseres haDibros – Ten Statements proclaimed to the Jewish People
(reflecting the ten sayings with which G-d created the world). The
requirement that every public Torah reading encompasses at least ten verses
is another detail meant to transport us back to Sinai to hear the Aseres
haDibros once again. Each verse we read every Monday, Thursday, and
Shabbos is meant to ensure that we never forget the Revelation, which is
exactly what Moshe was so concerned about before his passing (Devarim

As Jews in the world today, we are aware that there are many, many
distractions, taking many different forms, which can interfere with our
ability to hear the message of the Almighty. I believe the mitzvah of kerias
haTorah, properly appreciated and observed, enables us to tune in to the
correct frequency, and ensure we can properly hear, and heed, His call.




Throughout Biblical times, there were a number of ways a person
could hear the word of HaShem. From consulting the Urim veTumim1 to
contacting people beyond the grave2 to national revelation,3 communicating
with the Divine was seemingly far more commonplace than it is in modern
times. In no way was that more apparent than through prophecy. HaShem
chose a select few over the generations to share His messages and desires.
Most frequently, HaShem sent his nevi’im (prophets) specific messages for
national leaders4 and general words of inspiration and exhortation for the
Jewish people as a whole5.

From the desert experience through the second Temple era,
prophecy stood as a constant mechanism for spreading HaShem’s word
throughout the nation. There were, however, a number of challenges
associated with this method. First, the threat of false prophecy seemed to
be constant, with navi battles, 6 political standoffs 7 and counter-religious
messages8 frequently occurring over the generations. Indeed, countless
halakhot (Jewish laws)9 and warnings10 are written on the topic of false

Additionally, assuming a prophet was actually accepted as a
messenger of HaShem, a reader of Jewish texts today cannot help but be
baffled by the frequency with which his words are ignored. Nevi’im such as
Yishayahu and Yirmiyahu find themselves repeating the same pleas on
behalf of HaShem to better Benei Yisra’el and the nation through acts of
teshuvah (repentance) and chesed (loving kindness). 11 Indeed, the main
method of sharing HaShem’s word with the nation – prophecy – was
fraught with challenges.

1 See, e.g., Ezra 2:63 and Nechemiah 7:65.
2 See I Shemuel 28:7-25.
3 See Shemot 19:15.
4 See, e.g., I Shemuel 15:16, II Shemuel 7:17 and II Melachim 19:20.
5 This theme occupies much of Nevi’im Acharonim, the later prophets, in Tanach.
6 See I Melachim 17 and a further explanation of the encounter later in this essay.
7 See I Melachim 21:8.
8 See, e.g., I Melachim 12:28.
9 See, e.g., Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yesodei haTorah, Ch.10.
10 See, e.g., Devarim 18:18-20 and Yirmiyahu 23:25.
11 See Yishayahu 56:1 and Yirmiyahu 22:3.

6 Rei’ach HaSadeh

Against this backdrop, one prophet attempted a different approach
to capture the religious attention of the nation. Unlike nearly every other
prophet, Eliyahu never beckons the people to embrace teshuvah. Instead,
Eliyahu attempts to bring HaShem to the people through the performance
of miracles. 12 From the moment we meet Eliyahu, he is performing
miracles in the name of HaShem that have massive impact on the Jewish

‫ ַחי ה' ֱאֹל ֵקי ִי ְש ָּר ֵאל‬,‫ ֶאל ַא ְח ָּאב‬,‫ַויֹא ֶמר ֵא ִל ָּיהוּ ַה ִת ְשׁ ִבי ִמ ֹת ָּשׁ ֵבי ִג ְל ָּעד‬
‫ ִאם ְל ִפי ְד ָּב ִרי׃‬,‫ ִי ְה ֶיה ַה ָּש ִנים ָּה ֵא ֶלה ַטל וּ ָּמ ָּטר ִכי‬-‫ ִאם‬,‫ֲא ֶשׁר ָּע ַמ ְד ִתי ְל ָּפ ָּניו‬

Elijah the Tishbite, an inhabitant of Gilead, said to Ahab,
“As the LORD lives, the God of Israel whom I serve,
there will be no dew or rain except at my bidding.”
(I Melachim 17:1)

The reader is immediately introduced to Eliyahu as one who
suspends natural law. It is important to note that there is no record of
HaShem actually telling Eliyahu to do this. Eliyahu is making a national
impact seemingly without Divine prompting. This approach is quite unlike
that of any other navi in history. For example, Eliyahu does not beseech the
sinful kind Achav to repent; he only looks to cause a spectacle.

Seemingly, Eliyahu is of the belief that people need to physically
experience something to move them to religious epiphany. Hearing words
of a prophet is far less impactful than struggling for water. Eliyahu may be
looking at a different precedent to reach this conclusion. Following
Yehoshua’s conquest of the Land of Cana’an, the Jewish people settle into
the Shofetim (Judges) period. Throughout sefer Shofetim, the Jews
demonstrate a fascinating repetition in behavior. Over and over, they stray
from religion and then return as a nation only when things get bad. R.
Menachem Leibtag captures this cycle with the following process:

1. Benei Yisra’el leave God, choosing other gods instead.
2. God allows them to be punished by their enemies.
3. Benei Yisra’el cry out to God for help.
4. God sends a shofet to save them from their enemy.13

12 While other nevi’im, such as Moshe and Shemuel, performed miracles (See, e.g., Shemot
17:11 and I Shemuel 12:18, respectfully), miracles were not their main method of
communication of HaShem’s word. Each used prophecy as his main mechanism.
13 Leibtag, Menachem. SEFER SHOFETIM - Shiur #2 [Chapters 1 & 2].

Aron Srolovitz 7

In Eliyahu’s lifetime, much of the northern kingdom of Israel had
already turned to other gods, but other nations do not attack. Eliyahu
himself creates the impetus for the Jews to cry out. He then will be there
for them as their religious leader as they cry out to HaShem. No longer will
the Jews hear the word of HaShem through a prophet; they will experience
Him through action.

Eliyahu’s performances of miracles are not limited to the national
landscape. After Eliyahu tells King Achav that God is withholding rain and
dew from the land in sefer Melachim (17:1), he travels to the land of Tzidon,
where he encounters a widow with one son. The widow takes Eliyahu in
and he performs miracles for her to ensure the family has enough food.14
Not too long after his arrival, the son becomes ill and dies. The widow
begs Eliyahu to do something:

-‫ ָּבא ָּת ֵא ַלי ְל ַה ְז ִכיר ֶאת‬:‫ ִאישׁ ָּה ֱאֹל ִקים‬,‫ ִלי ָּו ָּלְך‬-‫ ַמה‬,‫ ֵא ִל ָּיהוּ‬-‫ ֶאל‬,‫ַותֹא ֶמר‬
‫ ְב ִני׃‬-‫ וּ ְל ָּה ִמית ֶאת‬,‫ֲע ֹו ִני‬

She said to Elijah, “What harm have I done you, O man of
God, that you should come here to recall my sin and cause
the death of my son?” (I Melachim 17:18)
Eliyahu miraculously resuscitates the child after praying to
HaShem. The woman expresses her gratitude by saying:
-‫ ִכי ִאישׁ ֱאֹל ִקים ָּא ָּתה; וּ ְד ַבר‬,‫ ַע ָּתה ֶזה ָּי ַד ְע ִתי‬,‫ ֵא ִל ָּיהוּ‬-‫ ֶאל‬,‫ַותֹא ֶמר ָּה ִא ָּשה‬

‫ ֱא ֶמת׃‬,‫ה' ְב ִפיָך‬
And the woman answered Elijah, “Now I know that you
are a man of God and that the word of the LORD is truly
in your mouth.” (I Melachim 17:24)
The woman experiences trauma and cries out to HaShem and His
navi. Salvation comes and the woman is closer to HaShem and His prophet.
The cycle continues.
Perhaps the most notable miracle in the Eliyahu narrative is his
battle with the 450 prophets of Ba’al at Har Carmel. Eliyahu challenges the
prophets to pray to their god to accept a sacrifice without fire, and says he
will do the same with HaShem. This standoff takes place in front of “all

14 See I Melachim, 17:8-16.

8 Rei’ach HaSadeh

the Israelites” along with idolatrous leaders and King Achav himself.15 In
this confrontation, Eliyahu again seeks to inspire teshuvah through
miraculous acts. Before the standoff begins, Eliyahu challenges the Jewish

‫ ְשׁ ֵתי‬-‫ ָּמ ַתי ַא ֶתם ֹפ ְס ִחים ַעל‬-‫ ַויֹא ֶמר ַעד‬,‫ ָּה ָּעם‬-‫ ָּכל‬-‫ַו ִי ַגשׁ ֵא ִל ָּיהוּ ֶאל‬
‫ ָּענוּ‬-‫ ַה ַב ַעל ְלכוּ ַא ֲח ָּריו; ְולֹא‬-‫ ְו ִאם‬,‫ה' ָּה ֱאֹל ִקים ְלכוּ ַא ֲח ָּריו‬-‫ ִאם‬--‫ַה ְס ִע ִפים‬

‫ ָּד ָּבר׃‬,‫ָּה ָּעם ֹאתֹו‬

Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will
you keep hopping between two opinions? If the LORD is
God, follow Him; and if Ba’al, follow him!” But the people
answered him not a word. (I Melachim 18:21)

After the prophets of Ba’al are unsuccessful, Eliyahu puts on quite
a deliberate show before performing his miracle:

-‫ ָּה ָּעם ֵא ָּליו; ַו ְי ַר ֵפא ֶאת‬-‫ ַו ִי ְגשׁוּ ָּכל‬,‫ ָּה ָּעם ְגשׁוּ ֵא ַלי‬-‫ַויֹא ֶמר ֵא ִל ָּיהוּ ְל ָּכל‬
‫ ִשׁ ְב ֵטי‬,‫ ְכ ִמ ְס ַפר‬,‫ ְשׁ ֵתים ֶע ְש ֵרה ֲא ָּב ִנים‬,‫ ַו ִי ַקח ֵא ִל ָּיהוּ‬.‫ ֶה ָּהרוּס‬,'‫ִמ ְז ַבח ה‬
‫ ַו ִי ְב ֶנה‬.‫ ִי ְש ָּר ֵאל ִי ְה ֶיה ְשׁ ֶמָך‬,‫ה' ֵא ָּליו ֵלא ֹמר‬-‫ ֲא ֶשׁר ָּה ָּיה ְד ַבר‬- ‫ ַי ֲע ֹקב‬-‫ְב ֵני‬
,‫ ָּס ִביב‬,‫ ְכ ֵבית ָּסא ַת ִים ֶז ַרע‬,‫ ְב ֵשׁם ה'; ַו ַי ַעש ְת ָּע ָּלה‬,‫ ָּה ֲא ָּב ִנים ִמ ְז ֵב ַח‬-‫ֶאת‬
,‫ ַויֹא ֶמר‬.‫ ָּה ֵע ִצים‬-‫ ַעל‬,‫ ַו ָּי ֶשם‬,‫ ַה ָּפר‬-‫ ֶאת‬,‫ ָּה ֵע ִצים; ַו ְי ַנ ַתח‬-‫ ֶאת‬,‫ ַו ַי ֲע ֹרְך‬.‫ַל ִמ ְז ֵב ַח‬
‫ ָּה ֵע ִצים; ַויֹא ֶמר ְשׁנוּ‬-‫ ְו ַעל‬,‫ ָּה ֹע ָּלה‬-‫ ְו ִי ְצקוּ ַעל‬,‫ִמ ְלאוּ ַא ְר ָּב ָּעה ַכ ִדים ַמ ִים‬
-‫ ָּס ִביב ַל ִמ ְז ֵב ַח; ְו ַגם ֶאת‬,‫ ַו ֵי ְלכוּ ַה ַמ ִים‬.‫ ַויֹא ֶמר ַשׁ ֵלשׁוּ ַו ְי ַשׁ ֵלשׁוּ‬,‫ַו ִי ְשׁנוּ‬

‫ ָּמ ִים׃‬-‫ ִמ ֵלא‬,‫ַה ְת ָּע ָּלה‬

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me”;
and all the people came closer to him. He repaired the
damaged altar of the LORD. Then Elijah took twelve
stones, corresponding to the number of the tribes of the
sons of Jacob – to whom the word of the LORD had
come: “Israel shall be your name” – and with the stones he
built an altar in the name of the LORD. Around the altar
he made a trench large enough for two seahs of seed. He
laid out the wood, and he cut up the bull and laid it on the
wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it
over the burnt offering and the wood.” Then he said, “Do
it a second time”; and they did it a second time. “Do it a
third time,” he said; and they did it a third time. The water
ran down around the altar, and even the trench was filled
with water. (I Melachim 18:30-35)

15 Id. at 18:20.

Aron Srolovitz 9

First, Eliyahu makes sure that everyone can see what he is doing.
He then performs an odd ritual that references the history of the twelve
tribes of Israel and their eternal relationship with HaShem. He invites the
people to involve themselves in the process, beckoning them to get water
for this performance. He does this all purposely, to stress that what will
happen next will be miraculous. Finally, Eliyahu prays to HaShem:

-‫ ַא ָּתה ה' ָּה ֱאֹל ִקים; ְו ַא ָּתה ֲה ִס ֹב ָּת ֶאת‬-‫ ִכי‬,‫ ְו ֵי ְדעוּ ָּה ָּעם ַה ֶזה‬,‫ ֲע ֵנ ִני‬,'‫ֲע ֵנ ִני ה‬
‫ ֲא ֹח ַר ִנית׃‬,‫ִל ָּבם‬

Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may
know that You, O LORD, are God; for You have turned
their hearts backward.” (I Melachim 18:37)

The fire bursts down from the heavens and consumes the
drenched sacrifice in front of all Jews. They respond in exactly the way
Eliyahu had hoped:

‫ ה' הוּא‬,‫ה' הוּא ָּה ֱאֹל ִקים‬-‫ ְפ ֵני ֶהם; ַויֹא ְמרו‬-‫ ַעל‬,‫ ַו ִי ְפלוּ‬,‫ ָּה ָּעם‬-‫ ָּכל‬,‫ַו ַי ְרא‬
‫ָּה ֱאֹל ִקים׃‬

When they saw this, all the people flung themselves on
their faces and cried out: “The LORD alone is God, The
LORD alone is God!” (I Melachim 18:39)

Much like people in the time of the Shofetim, the Jewish people,
facing years of famine, finally call out to HaShem and He sends them
salvation. Immediately after this national proclamation, the heavens open
up and rain soaks the land.16 Eliyahu establishes a new model for national
repentance: miracles.

Unfortunately for Eliyahu, this newfound national religious passion
is short-lived. Immediately after this momentous day, Eliyahu finds himself
on the run, persecuted for swaying the Jews away from idolatry.17 Eliyahu
becomes incredibly dejected. He cannot understand why he has not been
embraced and how the people have so quickly forgotten what happened.
How could a people announce their love for HaShem one day and allow
His prophet to be kicked to the curb so soon after? Eliyahu struggles to
accept that his new methods are not taking root among the people.

16 Id. at 18:41.
17 Id. at 19:1-2.

10 Rei’ach HaSadeh

Distraught by this new realization, he asks HaShem to kill him, saying, “I
am no better than my fathers.” (I Melachim 19:4)18

Instead of killing Him, however, HaShem sends him on a journey
of forty days and forty nights until he arrives at Har Sinai.19 Eliyahu repeats
his plea to HaShem on Har Sinai, complaining that “the Israelites have
forsaken Your covenant” and “I alone am left.” (I Melachim 19:10)
HaShem attempts to reorient Eliyahu’s mission as a prophet in an
incredibly moving experience at the top of the mountain.

‫ ְו ִה ֵנה ה' ֹע ֵבר ְורוּ ַח ְגדֹו ָּלה ְו ָּח ָּזק ְמ ָּפ ֵרק‬,'‫ ֵצא ְו ָּע ַמ ְד ָּת ָּב ָּהר ִל ְפ ֵני ה‬,‫ַויֹא ֶמר‬
‫ לֹא‬,‫ לֹא ָּברוּ ַח ה'; ְו ַא ַחר ָּהרוּ ַח ַר ַעשׁ‬,'‫ָּה ִרים וּ ְמ ַשׁ ֵבר ְס ָּל ִעים ִל ְפ ֵני ה‬
‫ קֹול ְד ָּמ ָּמה ַד ָּקה׃‬,‫ לֹא ָּב ֵאשׁ ה'; ְו ַא ַחר ָּה ֵאשׁ‬,‫ ְו ַא ַחר ָּה ַר ַעשׁ ֵאשׁ‬.'‫ָּב ַר ַעשׁ ה‬

“Come out,” He called, “and stand on the mountain
before the LORD.” And lo, the LORD passed by. There
was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and
shattering rocks by the power of the LORD; but the
LORD was not in the wind. After the wind – an
earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake – fire; but the LORD was not in the
fire. And after the fire – a soft murmuring sound. (I
Melachim 19:11-12)

Standing atop a mountain alone in the desert, Eliyahu witnesses
miracle after miracle. Massive winds split mountains in half and shatter
rocks. An earthquake rocks the land. A fire roars through the valley below
him. After each of these spectacles in front of him, he hears the same
voice: “The Lord is not in the wind, the Lord is not in the earthquake, the
Lord is not in the fire.” HaShem tries to demonstrate to Eliyahu that
miracles are visually stimulating and can be spiritually impactful, but they
can disappear and be replaced by something else just as quickly. After
everything dies down, Eliyahu senses one more message from HaShem, a
“kol demamah dakah”-“A still, small voice.” For one brief moment, Eliyahu
experiences something entirely counter to everything he has stood for:

18 This line seems to indicate that Eliyahu was actually trying to be better than previous
generations of religious leaders. He really believed that he had revolutionized the system of
19 That number, along with the location, is a clear allusion to Benei Yisra’el’s receiving of the
Torah at Har Sinai. Forty days and forty nights seem to be directly linked to readiness for
Divine inspiration.

Aron Srolovitz 11

Had Eliyahu listened carefully, he would have discovered HaShem
there in a way he never had before. HaShem is always there with us; we just
need to take that moment of quiet and introspection to let Him in. Eliyahu,
the champion of nature-suspending, nationally-impactful, never-seen-before
miracles, had never stopped to experience the silence and what can be
found within. And, because he does not stop this time at the top of Har
Sinai, he tragically misses its message.

Immediately after descending the mountain, an angel of HaShem
again asks Eliyahu what he wants. Rather than learn from his lesson,
Eliyahu repeats the same request: kill me for “the Israelites have forsaken
Your covenant” and “I alone am left.” (I Melachim 19:14) His answer is
identical to the one he gave before his time at the top of Har Sinai. In
short, Eliyahu seems to have learned nothing.

HaShem responds with tragic new instructions: anoint Elisha to
succeed you as prophet.20 Eliyahu’s attempt at prophecy reform never
came to fruition. While his disciple, Elisha, performs a number of miracles
similar to those of his teacher, we never again see a prophet whose sole
method of communicating HaShem’s word is through the performance of


Eliyahu misses a critical message from HaShem. Every person has
access to hearing the Divine. But, all too often, we seek that special
moment, that one story that inspires us, the communal cry that reaches the
heavens. We call out to HaShem, but we do not take the time to listen for a
response. Even with other nevi’im, their main source of inspiration was
never meant to come from within. Rather, each navi, like each Jew, is meant
to listen for HaShem’s sounds. Only when a nation fails to do this does a
prophet’s word become necessary.

Especially in a time when prophecy no longer exists, HaShem’s
message to us seems to be clear. We cannot spend our lives trying to jump
from one spiritually motivating moment to another. As impressive as they
are, we are taught not to rely on miracles.21 We never know when they will
come or the long-term impact they will have. Conversely, HaShem is
beckoning us to constantly listen. Take a moment of silence to experience

20 Id. at 19:16.
21 See Shabbat 31a and Ta’anit 20b.

12 Rei’ach HaSadeh

spirituality. Instead of making tefillah (prayer) all about the things you want
to say to HaShem, open a moment in your prayer for simple silence.

In his famous letter, the Iggeret haRamban, Ramban commands his
son to:

‫ והכן לבך לפני המקום ברוך‬,‫והסר כל דברי הולם מלבך בעת התפלה‬
.‫ וחשב הדבור קדם שתוציאנו מפיך‬,‫ וטהר רעיוניך‬.‫הוא‬

Remove all worldly concerns from your heart during
prayer. Prepare your heart before God, purify your
thoughts and think about the words before you utter them.

Both before tefillah and after – pause. Think about what you truly
want to see, and then, just as important, look for the answers. HaShem
reminds us all that He is here. It is up to us to find Him.



As a volunteer puppy raiser for the Seeing Eye, which trains guide
dogs for the blind, I teach basic commands to my puppies (come, sit, down,
rest), attend puppy club with them twice a month, and take them with me
to as many places as possible (the dry cleaner, bank, post office, bookstore,
mall, schools) so they can learn how to behave properly in public. When the
puppies are between fourteen and sixteen months old, they return to Seeing
Eye, where the real work begins. There they are taught by professional
trainers to do all that a Seeing Eye dog must do: stop at corners and look
for oncoming traffic; guide their people across streets and around obstacles;
lead them up and down stairs and escalators; guide them onto subways,
trains, planes, and buses.

Trainers also teach the dogs intelligent disobedience—when to
disobey a command that might lead a blind person into danger.

For example, a blind woman is stopped at a street corner. She
listens for traffic. The intersection seems clear, so she gives her Seeing Eye
dog the “Forward” command. The dog sees a car approaching the
intersection and refuses to obey the command, exhibiting intelligent
disobedience. The woman gives the “Forward” command again. Now that
the car has cleared the intersection and there are no other cars approaching,
the dog safely guides the woman across the street, stopping at the curb so
she can find it with her foot and step up onto the sidewalk.

A blind person and his guide dog walk the same way to work each
day. One day, the man tells his dog “Forward,” but the dog refuses to go.
The man gives his dog the command a second time; still the dog refuses to
move. The man reaches out his foot and finds he’s standing at the edge of a
trench. Yesterday there was street. Today, the street has been torn up, and
there’s now a ditch into which the man could have fallen. His dog has
demonstrated intelligent disobedience and did not lead him forward into a
dangerous situation.

A woman takes the elevator up to her office each day. The elevator
door opens, and her dog leads her into the elevator car. Today the door
opens but the dog refuses to budge. The woman commands her dog
“Forward,” but her dog will not go. The woman tentatively reaches out her
foot and realizes there is no elevator there, just the elevator shaft. Her dog
has saved her life.

14 Rei’ach HaSadeh

The story of Balaam and his donkey (Numbers Ch. 22) is a biblical
example of intelligent disobedience. The prophet Balaam is summoned by
Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Israelites, who had overrun the Amorites
and now threaten to do the same to the Moabites. Or, as Balak puts it so
beautifully, to “lick clean all that is about us as an ox licks up the grass of
the field.” (Numbers 22:4)

Though Balaam is not Jewish, God speaks to him, forbidding him
to curse the Israelites, and Balaam is compelled to obey: No matter how
many dignitaries Balak sends, no matter how much gold and silver he
promises to pay Balaam, Balaam cannot transgress the word of God. But
recognizing how tempting Balak’s offer is to Balaam, God gives Balaam
permission to accompany the ministers back to King Balak.

According to Rashi and the Talmud (Sanhedrin 105b), in his hatred
for the children of Israel and in his eagerness to set off to meet Balak,
Balaam arose early the next morning and saddled his donkey himself. He sets
off with two servants, but his donkey sees “the angel of the Lord standing
in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand.” (Numbers 22:23) The
donkey certainly cannot move forward. So instead, she swerves off the
road and into the fields. Balaam beats her to get her back on the right track.

Next, Balaam and the donkey proceed down a lane between two
vineyards. The angel again positions himself in the middle of the road,
presumably sword still drawn. Where is the donkey to go when, as the
Torah tells us (v. 24), there are fences on either side of the road? She
presses herself as close as she can to one side, squeezing Balaam’s foot
against the fence. Balaam beats the donkey again.

Finally, the angel positions himself “on a spot so narrow that there
was no room to swerve right or left” (v. 26). With nowhere to turn, the
donkey, Balaam on her back, lies down in the middle of the road. Balaam,
more furious than ever, beats her with his stick a third time. Suddenly, God
gives the donkey the power of speech (vs. 28-30):

Donkey: “What have I done to you that you have beaten
me these three times?”
Balaam: “You have made a mockery of me. If I had a
sword with me, I’d kill you.”

Judy Cohen Sandman 15

Donkey: “Look, I am the donkey that you have been
riding all along until this day! Have I been in the habit of
doing thus to you?”
Balaam: No.
It is at this point that God “uncovers” Balaam’s eyes so he can see
the angel standing in the middle of the road, brandishing his sword. The
angel asks Balaam why he has beaten his donkey and says, “If your donkey
hadn’t shied away from me, I would have killed you, while sparing her.”
(Numbers 22:33)
Balaam’s donkey has learned to differentiate between the right way
to go and the wrong way to go, as have Seeing Eye dogs. We try to teach
this skill to children, whether it is checking for traffic in order to safely
cross a street or how to treat others fairly. As adults, we hope to display our
own form of intelligent disobedience and to stand up to those who are
behaving improperly or immorally. We learn these values from our parents
and teachers; we learn them through Torah study. I believe that when we
do the right thing, when we listen to our conscience, when we act on the
values that have been ingrained in us, we demonstrate that we have heard
God’s voice.
It often is difficult to disobey people whom we respect, who are
older, or who are in a position of authority over us. Oftentimes, it is easier
to go along with somebody else’s wishes than to argue or create bad
feelings. When a boss tells us to do something a certain way, we may have
no choice but to comply, even if it does not seem the expeditious way to
go. But when we are asked to do something that goes against our values,
our very core beliefs, this is when intelligent disobedience may be called for.
Since I gravitate to stories about women, I would like to briefly
discuss six women in the Tanach who exemplify intelligent disobedience,
rejecting human authority—in all of these examples but one, the authority
of kings—and instead respond to God’s spirit or their conscience, which I
believe in all these stories represents hearing God’s voice. In doing so, they
saved not only their own lives and the lives of family members, but ensured
the future of the Jewish people.

In the book of Ruth, Naomi, bereft of her husband and sons, but
accompanied by her daughters-in-law, sets out from Moab to Bethlehem.

16 Rei’ach HaSadeh

Looking to the future, Naomi realizes she has nothing to offer Ruth and
Orpah: She has no more sons for them to marry and is too old to bear
more sons that the young women could one day hope to marry. So Naomi
urges Ruth and Orpah to turn back to their mothers’ houses. Orpah heeds
Naomi’s plea and returns home. Ruth disobeys Naomi, refusing to leave
her, saying:

Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not to
follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you
lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and
your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I
will be buried. Thus and more may the Lord do to me if
anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
The two women then return to Bethlehem. Ruth has changed
Naomi’s outlook from bitter to hopeful. She gleans in Boaz’s field, ensuring
her and Naomi’s survival. She marries Boaz, and their son, Obed, is the
forerunner of the Davidic dynasty.

In the book of Esther, Haman plots to annihilate the entire Jewish
population of Persia. When Mordecai finds out, he tears his clothes, puts on
sackcloth and ashes, and walks through the capital of Shushan “crying out
loudly and bitterly” (Esther 4:1) until he reaches the palace gate. There he is
refused admittance because he is out of compliance with the dress code.
Esther sends out fresh clothing for Mordecai. When he declines her gift,
Esther sends her servant out to speak to Mordecai and find out what the
problem is. When Mordecai responds that Esther must go before
Ahasuerus and plead with him to save the Jewish people, Esther’s first
response is that she can’t. Anybody who goes before the king uninvited is
subject to death. Mordecai warns Esther:

Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with
your life by being in the king’s palace. On the contrary, if
you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will
come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and
your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps
you have attained royal position for just such a crisis.
(Esther 4:13-14)
Esther’s decision to flout Persian law and seek an audience with the
king is much more fraught than Ruth’s decision to disregard Naomi’s wish

Judy Cohen Sandman 17

that she return to her childhood home. Ahasuerus doesn’t know that
Esther is Jewish; she’s successfully kept her identity a secret. So why risk
her life and go before the king when he has not summoned her? But
Mordechai’s arguments are convincing. Esther disobeys the law of the land
and that of her husband to answer to a higher authority—her cousin, and
ultimately God—and, over the course of two dinner parties, reveals
Haman’s plot to kill all the Jews of the kingdom, including her. Haman is
put to death; Esther and Mordecai live, as does the reputation of Esther’s
father’s house; and the Jewish people are saved.

At the very beginning of the book of Joshua, as Joshua prepares to
lead the Israelites across the Jordan River and into Eretz Yisra’el, he sends
two spies to Jericho. The men stop at the home of a woman named Rahab.
When their cover is blown and the king of Jericho orders Rahab to
“Produce the men who came to you…to spy” (Joshua 2:3), Rahab denies
knowing they were spies and explains that they have already left her house
and the city. In reality, Rahab has hidden the spies on her roof, under some
stalks of flax.

After the king’s men leave to pursue the spies, Rahab climbs back
up to the roof and explains to the two men how frightened the people of
Jericho are of the Israelites: God has helped the Israelites defeat many other
local peoples; the people of Jericho fear they are next. Rahab defies the king
and recognizes the higher power of God. In exchange for refusing to turn
over the spies to the king of Jericho, she makes the spies promise to keep
her and her family safe when the Israelites conquer the city. The spies keep
their word, saving Rahab and her family. Having saved the spies, Rahab has
ensured the successful conquest of Eretz Yisra’el by the Israelites.

The last two examples of intelligent disobedience come from
Exodus: the two midwives and, my favorite, Pharaoh’s daughter.

As we learn in the very first chapter of the book of Exodus, a new
king, who is fearful of the high birth rate among the Israelites, arises over
Egypt: During a war, the Israelites might fight on the side of Egypt’s
enemies. Therefore, Pharaoh enslaves the Israelites and orders them to
build the cities of Pithom and Raamses. When hard labor fails to slow down
the birth rate, Pharaoh instructs the two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and

18 Rei’ach HaSadeh

Puah, to kill all the male Israelite babies whom they deliver. But as the
Torah tells us, “The midwives, fearing God, did not do as the king of Egypt
had told them; they let the boys live.” (Exodus 1:17) When Pharaoh
questions them about this, Shiphrah and Puah respond that the Israelite
women deliver their babies before the midwives even arrive. Their actions
merit that God “dealt well” with them (v. 20) and “established households
for them” (v. 21). And thanks to their efforts and quick thinking, the
Israelites “multiplied and increased greatly” (v. 20), again ensuring the
survival of the Jewish people.

Does Pharaoh’s daughter hear the voice of God? Certainly Bat-
Paroh doesn’t heed her own father’s voice. All of the women mentioned so
far—Ruth, Esther, Rahab, Shiphrah and Puah—have nothing to lose and
everything to gain if they are successful. Whether or not they demonstrate
intelligent disobedience, their lives are already at risk. The only way to
possibly save themselves is by breaking the rules. In that sense, of all the
women discussed here, Pharaoh’s daughter has the most to lose. Her father
is the most powerful person in all of Egypt. He is, in fact, considered a god
by the Egyptians. What is it to her if the Israelites are enslaved? It is no
skin off her back if newborn Israelite baby boys are killed.

Therefore, the scope of Bat-Paroh’s rebellion is enormous.
Pharaoh commands that Israelite baby boys be drowned in the Nile. It is
from this very river that she rescues Moses. Pharaoh enslaves the Israelites
to separate families and depress their birth rate. Pharaoh’s daughter—surely
recognizing that the girl at the water’s edge watching over Moses is his
sister and that the woman whose services Miriam offers to nurse the baby is
Moses’s mother—reunites Moses with his family. There are many
admonitions in the Tanach about how workers are to be treated. Most
striking to me is what Pharaoh’s daughter says to Moses’s mother (Exodus
2:9): “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will pay your wages” (emphasis
mine). Moses’s mother would have done anything to save her son.
Knowing that her son was being returned to her to nurse must have seemed
like an amazing gift. But in a total subversion of Pharaoh’s decree enslaving
the Israelites—forcing them to perform hard labor for free—Pharaoh’s
daughter pays Moses’s mother for nursing him!

According to the Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 18:3), because she
rescued Moses, Pharaoh’s daughter was spared the tenth plague—the killing
of the firstborn—and went on to convert and marry Caleb, who stood up
to the other spies Moses had sent to scope out Eretz Yisra’el in the same

Judy Cohen Sandman 19

way Bat-Paroh stood up to her father (interestingly, Rahab, too, according
to the Midrash [Megillah 14b], is said to have converted and married Joshua).
Without Bat-Paroh, there may have been no Moses, and our redemption
may have been entirely different.

In the book of Numbers (27:1-11), we read about five sisters,
Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, the daughters of Zelophehad,
whose father has died without a male heir. The women approach Moses to
ask if they can inherit Zelophehad’s property so his name will not be lost.
Moses brings their case before God, who decrees, “Yes, they may inherit.”
In fact, any daughter whose father dies without a son is permitted to inherit
her father’s property. While the story of these women does not quite fit into
the category of intelligent disobedience, there is one priority they share: all
of these women look to the future.

One of the joys of raising puppies is observing the eagerness with
which they live life. Pick up their leash, and they run to the front door for a
walk. Click the car remote, and they cannot wait to hop in for their next
adventure; open the cupboard under the sink, and they will spin in circles
with delight because it is feeding time. They live in the present; there is
much debate about whether animals can sense time or anticipate the future.

Human beings are blessed with the gift of looking forward. Ruth,
Esther, Rahab, Shiphrah, Puah, Bat-Paroh, and Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah,
Milcah, and Tirzah, each in her own way, demonstrated intelligent
disobedience, ignoring the voice of human authority and answering God’s
call, providing for the future of the Jewish people. Perhaps they
succeeded because they were women, because they weren’t expected to
challenge the conventions of society, because their words were so startling
they could not go unanswered, because their actions were so audacious they
could not be ignored. God speaks to all of us and expects all of us to
answer, to challenge people and policies that are not in keeping with Jewish
values and our core beliefs.

The Haftarah for parashat Balak comes from the book of Micah.
The last verses of the Haftarah (Micah 6:6-7) ask what God wants of us:

Shall I approach [God] with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old?
Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriads
of streams of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for my sins?

20 Rei’ach HaSadeh

No, says the prophet. This is what God expects of us:

Only to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk
modestly with your God; then will your name achieve
wisdom. (Micah 6:8)

R. Louis Finkelstein said, “When I pray, I speak to God. When I
study, God speaks to me.” When we have internalized the teachings of our
faith, we have heard God’s voice. We must answer God not only through
prayer, but by putting our learning into action, choosing right over wrong,
standing up for the Jewish principles that have been ingrained in us: that
Israel is our inheritance, that we must protect Jews around the world, that
we must help the oppressed and those in need. May we always wisely follow
in the footsteps of our ancestors—our fathers and mothers.



In this article, my goal is to introduce you to a conception of the
voice of HaShem, in order to provide you with clear instructions for
detecting that voice in your life. In order to achieve that result, we will
need to dig carefully into the nature of voices, as well as into what we mean
when we say “HaShem.” This means that our first step will be to carefully
consider our perception of HaShem.

Generally, the ways in which we relate to others depend on our
perceptions of them. If we perceive people as threats, we behave
protectively, while if we perceive them as trustworthy, we will be more
comfortable and habituated in their presence. The implication is that we
relate to others according to our image of them and not according to who they are
in reality. A person may indeed pose a threat, but if we do not perceive the
person in that way, we will not relate to them as a threat. Essentially,
perceptions operate like maps in our minds, attempting to describe the
terrain around us, but often diverging from that terrain when our
perceptions are mistaken.

This principle applies to our perception of HaShem as consistently
and as powerfully as it does to our perceptions of other people. The
parallel between our perceptions of others and of HaShem is one of the
layers of meaning in the Gemara (Berachot 28b), when it states:

‫ ”יהי רצן‬:‫אמרו לו (לרבי יוחנן בן זכאי) ”רבינו בכרנו!“ אמר להם‬
‫ ”עד‬:‫“ אמרו לו תלמידיו‬.‫שתהא מורא שמים עליכם כמורא בשר ודם‬

“...‫ ”ולואי‬:‫כאן?!“ אמר להם‬

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s students said to him (on his
deathbed): “Our teacher, give us a bracha!” He responded,
“May your awareness of the intangible beyond (HaShem)
be equal to your awareness of the tangible world (people).”
The students said to him, “only that much??” He said, “If
only it would be so.”

Rabbi Yochanan taught his students that the experience of
perceiving others is universal, applying to any “other,” people or HaShem.
The individual nature of a particular “other” varies, but the fundamental
truth underlying your perception-based experiences of others is constant.

22 Rei’ach HaSadeh

For many of us, our perception of HaShem is a conglomeration of
various ideas and experiential associations from our childhood, our
educational upbringing, and an array of conversations and statements we
have stored in our minds related to “God.” When you think of HaShem,
your mind may conjure up flitting images of a king, or a throne, or some
giant located “over there,” somewhere out in the heavens. Alternatively,
you may perceive HaShem as a father, your caretaker, someone who cares
about your life and your choices. These are two simplistic perceptual lenses
that illustrate this point, and there are many other possible lenses discussed
in the writings of our sages.1

As noted above, perceptions are maps, and while they describe
aspects of the terrain, they should not be confused with the terrain itself,
which is far more complex. For example, HaShem is not actually anyone’s
father or anyone’s king. However, if you perceive HaShem as a father, then
father-associated thoughts will manifest in your mind when you think about
HaShem. More importantly, your particular brand of father-associated
thoughts will manifest, since different people perceive their fathers
differently. If you view your father as very distant, emotionally detached
and quick to anger, that father paradigm will influence your conception of
HaShem, even if that conception is not actually true in reality. Conversely, if your
perception of your father is that he is warm, sensitive, emotionally aware,
and deeply connective, that paradigm will affect your perception of
HaShem, leading to vastly different associations.

In light of these perceptual dynamics, I would like to introduce a
sharper lens with which you can approach the terrain of HaShem. The
Gemara (Berachot 10a) describes HaShem as follows:

;‫מה הקדוש ברוך הוא מלא כל העולם אף נשמה מלאה את כל הגוף‬
;‫מה הקדוש ברוך הוא רואה ואינו נראה אף נשמה רואה ואינה נראית‬
;‫מה הקדוש ברוך הוא זן את כל העולם כלו אף נשמה זנה את כל הגוף‬
‫מה הקדוש ברוך הוא טהור אף נשמה טהורה; מה הקדוש ברוך הוא‬

.‫יושב בחדרי חדרים אף נשמה יושבת בחדרי חדרים‬

Just like HaShem fills all layers of reality, so does the
Neshamah fill the body; just like HaShem sees but is not
seen, so does the Neshamah see but is not seen; just like

1 In the corpus of Biblical and rabbinical literature, HaShem is also referred to as a daughter,
a son, a friend and every other possible relationship, in addition to the more culturally
popular perceptions of father and king.

Zev Bannett 23

HaShem animates all layers of reality, so does the
Neshamah animate the body; just like HaShem is seated
deep within the inner chambers, so is the Neshamah seated
deep within the inner chambers.

In order to unpack this Gemara, we have to explain a few things.
Let us begin with “Neshamah,” since that’s the object of comparison to
HaShem in the Gemara. The term “Neshamah” is usually translated as
“soul.” This leads to a language problem: We translate “Neshamah” because
we want to know what it means, but often the translation does not
accurately convey full meaning; rather, it simply substitutes one unknown
word for another. How do we translate or define the word “soul”? What
does this word mean?

Our Gemara above provides us with a definition, which is the key
to understanding the meaning of “Neshamah,” as well as the conception of
HaShem described by the Gemara. A Neshamah sees but is not seen, and
fills the body. These words directly indicate the underlying truth of the
nature of Neshamah. The Neshamah is you. In other words, you look out
through your eyes and are not seen, and you fill your body but are not your
body. According to the Torah, you are a conscious, intangible self (a
Neshamah), somehow linked to a tangible set of tools (the body), which
operates as a conduit between your intangible self and the external tangible
reality of the world. Because you are the Neshamah, you possess an intuitive
sense that you are a self, someone, as opposed to simply being a biological
machine. In fact, this sense is so pervasive that it dominates all social
functioning and all human effort. You seek self-actualization, you constantly
try to get to know yourself, and you build your life around these efforts and
intuitions. You look into the eyes of others not because you are fascinated
by eyeballs, but because you intuit that there is another self somehow looking
back at you through those eyes. You look for a special someone to connect
with on the level of self, not a biological machine with which to live. Entire
legal systems and societies are built around protecting the lives, rights and
property of individuals, predicated on the assumption that each of us is an
irreplaceable someone.

Once we define Neshamah as “the experience of selfness,” we must
attempt to unlock the second aspect of the Gemara. How do we translate
and define the conception of HaShem as comparable to that of the

Just like the Neshamah fills the body, looks out from the body, and
is not seen, HaShem fills all beings – including yourself – looks out, and is not

24 Rei’ach HaSadeh

seen. You are a part of “all being,” and so if HaShem fills all being, and is
looking out from deep within all being, that also includes you. You can
think of HaShem as being deeply buried underneath layers of reality, while
the world you experience, which is called “being,” is the outer layer. To put
this succinctly, HaShem is within you, while also being within everything and
everyone else. HaShem is the root of all being, and is the common
denominator connecting all the diversity of existence. One of the terms
used to describe HaShem is ‫נשמתא דכל נשמתין‬, the “self of selves,”
describing the aspect of HaShem that is manifest within you, and even as

This more nuanced perception of HaShem leads us to the
following conclusion: You can relate to HaShem not only as a king, or a
father, but as the Self of yourself, an underlying root-Self of which you are an
extension. From your perspective, you and HaShem may appear to be two
separate selves. But the Gemara’s description reveals a different paradigm.
You are actually a fragment or facet of a larger Self – of HaShem – and that
larger Self is buried deep within you, seeing all but blocked from sight. In
essence, when you deeply explore your inner self, you are seeking to know
HaShem. If you use the Torah as the guidebook for this journey, you will
be able to open the inner doorway to that larger Self, achieving ‫נבואה‬, which
refers to the welling up of the total Self within your own limited,
fragmented extension of that Self (this is commonly called prophecy, but
the cultural conception of prophecy is, at best, a small fragment of the
above definition).

Allow me to use an example to show you how this paradigm
manifests in your life. Consider your thoughts. Thoughts run through your
conscious mind constantly, sometimes controlled by you, at other times of
their own volition. Have you ever asked, “Where do my thoughts come
from?” I encourage you to try to journey to the root of your thoughts
inside your own mind. Focus on your train of thought, and try to get to the
source. If you do this successfully, the sensation will be like hitting a wall,
as you reach a seeming barrier blocking access to the source of thought.
Behind that wall is what Chazal call the “Keter,” the barrier between your
fragment of self (Neshamah) and the all-knowing, endless, unchanging total
Self that is known as ‫נשמתא דכל נשמתין‬. At your core, you are actually a
manifestation of that all-conscious Self, but the Keter barrier blocks your
direct knowledge of yourself as connected to HaShem. However, since you
are fundamentally united with HaShem at your root, you intuitively sense
that there are certain ways of life that are more in harmony with that deeply

2 Nefesh HaChaim, Sha’ar 3, Perek 10.

Zev Bannett 25

embedded Self, and other ways that are damaging. When you live in
harmony with that deeper Self (HaShem), you create a bridge between you
and HaShem, a connection called ‫דבקות‬, meaning “attachment.”

This analogy leads us directly to our topic of discussion. What is
the voice of HaShem? Here are two midrashim (Shemot Rabbah 29:4 and
29:1) from the story of Har Sinai, one of the most direct expositions of the
experience of HaShem’s voice:

:‫שמות רבה כט ד‬
‫ פרחה נשמתם‬,‫ שכיון שבאו לסיני ונגלה להם‬,‫ולא היה בהם כח לעמד‬

“.‫ שנאמר ”נפשי יצאה בדברו‬,‫על שדבר עמהם‬

And they lacked the strength to stand, for when HaShem
uncovered himself to them, their Neshamot fluttered up as
he spoke to them, as it says “my Nefesh emerged when he

:‫שמות רבה כט א‬
‫ כיצד אלו היה‬,‫ אמר להם׃ השמע עם קול אלקים‬,‫הזר רבי לוי ופרש‬
:)‫ ד‬,‫ אלא (תהלים כט‬,‫ לא היה הולם יכול לעמד‬,‫כתוב קול ה' בכחו‬
‫ הבחורים לפי כחן והזקנים לפי כחן‬,‫ של כל אחד ואכד‬,‫קול ה' בכח‬

.‫והקטנים לפי כחן‬

Rabbi Levi reviewed and explained [the issue], saying to
them: What does the Torah mean when it says “Has any
other nation heard the voice of Elokim?” If the Torah
would have said “the voice of HaShem in its fullness,”
reality could not have tolerated this. Rather, it is written,
“the voice of HaShem in strength,” according to the
strength of each one of them [at Har Sinai], the youths
according to their strength, the elders according to their
strength, and the children according to their strength.

The Midrash describes that when we heard HaShem’s voice, our
Neshamot “fluttered away,” often thought to mean that we died. The other
Midrash here explains that HaShem’s voice was calibrated to fit every
person hearing it, according to his or her strength.3 Why would we die if
HaShem’s voice was perfectly calibrated for each of us? The answer lies in
the word “fluttered” – “‫ ”פרחה‬in Hebrew. This word conveys a hovering

3 There is significantly more depth to this Midrash, but the other aspects are beyond the
purview of this essay.

26 Rei’ach HaSadeh

lightness, a sense of being above limitations; think about the meaning of
‫פרח‬, or flower, a complex and beautiful entity hovering delicately above its
less complex roots.

So what exactly happened when we, the Neshamot linked to bodies,
encountered the voice of HaShem? The voice was not a booming voice
from the sky. Instead, there was a welling up of HaShem’s presence from
within each of us which exploded through the root Keter barrier that
separated our awareness of ourselves from our awareness of our greater
Self (HaShem). We suddenly experienced ourselves as fully reunited with
our true Self, no longer separate from HaShem. Our Neshamot, our selves,
“fluttered away,” flowering into a higher state as the Keter barrier was
dissolved (temporarily), allowing us to experience oneness with the rest of
ourselves, HaShem. This separation was like death, in the sense that we
were so overcome with our perception of the truth that we moved beyond
our fragile bodies into a state of nearly total consciousness (which is the
process of death according to the Torah). We experientially encountered
the truth of our being, realizing that our awareness of ourselves is only a
fraction of who we really are.

It should be mentioned that this literally mind-blowing experience
of the truth of what we are is what you are meant to access, as much as
possible, when learning Torah (accessing HaShem’s perceptions) and on
such special occasions as the Seder night, and Purim, among others.

Using the above structures, we can now carefully assess the
dynamics of the voice of HaShem in our current, non-Har Sinai lives. Our
voices are the most direct means of expressing our inner thoughts.
Underneath our thoughts lies the root of all thought, HaShem, behind a
semipermeable barrier. HaShem’s own thoughts well up from behind that
wall and leak through, manifesting as our own thoughts. Those thoughts
are currently the most voice-like manifestations of HaShem in our lives.

While this perspective is profound and deep, there is one important
limitation. This statement does not mean that all your thoughts are
harmonious with your connection with HaShem. HaShem sends you
thoughts according to your own choices and lifestyle. Whatever you fill
your life with will define the types of thoughts that well up from within
(your “thought-feed,” just like the feed on your Facebook page), leading to
thought habituation. The more habituated your thinking becomes, the less
you will be able to access HaShem’s voice through the thought channel.
Only by constantly evolving your thinking, by learning Torah and other,

Zev Bannett 27

lesser wisdom, can you consistently use this channel to hear HaShem’s

Thus, if you live a life that focuses on Torah, connections,
relationships, self-awareness and learning, those kinds of thoughts will leak
through more and more intensely. If you live a life focused on “Game of
Thrones,” the Yankees, your ego, shallow understandings of Torah, the
problems at your workplace, your character failings, and your body’s
sensations, those kinds of thoughts will dominate your HaShem “thought-
feed.” The latter examples are thought patterns that will tend to make your
connection with HaShem weaker, and make you more deeply embedded in
the problems of your current form of life, known as olam hazeh (lit. “an
existence of unbalanced fixations”). The former examples are designed to
make you a conduit, a manifestation of HaShem, an endless and intangible
spark of consciousness, immortal and ever expanding, manifest within a
finite world.



“A joyful heart is good medicine; despondency dries up the bones”
– Mishlei 17:22

Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship
in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.
Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later
each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves

as citizens of that other place.
– Susan Sontag1

In her trenchant, trailblazing monograph Illness as Metaphor, prize-
winning author and social critic Susan Sontag illuminates the ways in which
people have sought for centuries to make sense of diseases that have no
clearly defined cause, treatment or cure. Nearly all of us, of course, will at
some point enter the kingdom of the sick – and we will want to know why.
Sontag contends that in every age and culture we have tried to answer this
question by creating myths that assuage the fears of the healthy, while often
shaming those who are not.

Among the most prominent examples she cites are the once-
common beliefs that tuberculosis was caused by an excess of passion, and
cancer by the repression of emotion. Of course, we know now that both are
myths; yet many of us continue to regard illnesses that strike adults
symbolically: as a punishment, a curse, a sign of inner weakness. Unhappily,
this leads some of us, whether we realize it or not, to hold the sick
responsible for their own suffering. As Sontag observes, “Any disease that
is treated as a mystery and acutely enough feared will be felt to be morally,
if not literally contagious” – neatly defining the dread, and the
rationalizations that justify it, which drive some citizens of the kingdom of
the well to judge, neglect, or even shun those they once counted as loved

Thanks in part to the power of Sontag’s premise and her prose,
there has been a tectonic shift in patient care in the 40 years since Illness as
Metaphor was published. Today, cancer is perceived and treated as a disease

1 Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1978), p 3.
2 Id. at pp. 3, 6.

Diane Osen Covkin 29

– and nothing more. Yet misinformation about the human body continues
to abound. Many people, for example, believe that hemophiliacs can bleed
to death from a paper cut or that pregnant women should eat for two.
While these myths are not pejorative, others can be: among adults,
conditions like clinical depression, anxiety, infertility, fibromyalgia, chronic
fatigue syndrome, obesity, cirrhosis, heart disease, ulcers, hepatitis C and
various forms of addiction are still viewed by some as metaphors for
psychological or moral weakness. Those suffering from these and other
misunderstood illnesses may share these disapproving assessments, faulting
themselves as failures and further endangering their health by delaying or
refusing treatment.

Characterizing illness as a metaphor poses enormous potential for
harm. Researchers now estimate that some two billion adults worldwide
suffer from at least one chronic illness lacking a cure or effective treatment,
while some 350 million suffer from rare diseases that are likewise incurable
or refractory. 3 According to the September 2018 Morbidity and Mortality
Report by the Centers for Disease Control, 20% of American adults suffer
from chronic pain, while nearly 20 million suffer from pain so debilitating it
limits their daily activities and diminishes the quality of their lives. Many will
never be able to return as they once were to the kingdom of the well.

So much mystery; so much misery.

How did illness become a metaphor for moral weakness? It may
come as a surprise to learn that this notion is embedded in our own Jewish
traditions – along with more salutary messages from HaShem about the
importance of love and compassion for those who suffer from misfortunes
like illness.

Bikur cholim – visiting the sick – is one of the first mitzvot
introduced to Jewish children studying Chumash. When they discover that
HaShem came to Avraham after he underwent painful circumcision at the
age of 99, they learn two lessons from this divine act of chesed: first, that we

3 Cother Hajat and Sandeep P. Kishore, “The Case for a Global Focus on Multiple Chronic
Conditions,” BMJ Global Health Journal 3, no. 3 (June 2018): 1-3, available at content/bmjgh/3/3/e000874.full.pdf; Global Genes Rare Foundation

30 Rei’ach HaSadeh

are obliged to emulate the ways of HaShem; and second, that we too are
thus obliged to call on the sick.

Chazal elaborate on the importance of bikur cholim. Rabbi Akiva,
for example, avers that one who does not visit a sick disciple is akin to a
shedder of blood; Rabbi Dimi adds that one who visits the sick causes him
to live, while one who does not visit causes him to die (Nedarim 40a).
Further, we learn that simply by visiting the sick we help cure them, as we
contract 1/60 of their illness (Baba Metzia 30b); and that we must visit even
if we find this prospect a bit disconcerting, and irrespective of the sufferer’s
social standing or religion (Nedarim 39b). Finally, this mitzvah remains
incomplete if we fail to pray on behalf of the sick (Shabbat 12a-b), or to
fulfill during our visit yet another Torah obligation, v’Ahavta le’Reicha
kamocha – to love others as we love ourselves (Rabbah 34:2). In performing
properly the mitzvah of bikur cholim, we achieve a relative rarity: we enjoy its
fruits not only in this world, but even more in the World to Come
(Shabbat 12a-b).4

Of course, there are numerous commandments, apart from bikur
cholim and ve’Ahavta leRei’acha kamocha, whose effect is to ensure that we
neither neglect nor shun those who are ill or suffering from other
misfortunes. For example, the Torah exhorts us to love and guard the rights
of strangers; to give charity; to allow servants to rest on Shabbat; to release
servants with gifts; not to hate; not to oppress the weak or strangers; not to
cause the innocent to stumble; and not to stand by idly if the life of another
is in danger. HaShem warns us too against cruelty or indifference toward
the poor, widows and orphans; and we may infer from the
many mitzvot regarding compassion for animals that HaShem expects us to
show compassion for human beings as well, notwithstanding their health

But the most compelling argument for human compassion is the
one HaShem makes Himself, when He reveals to Moshe on Har Sinai His
Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy. These are noteworthy not only
because they offer us human beings a glimpse of the infinitude of HaShem,
but also because they serve as a call to action: we too must strive to be
compassionate before and after others err; compassionate in ways that are
commensurate with their needs; merciful; gracious; slow to anger; bountiful
in both kindness and truth; forgiving of iniquity, transgression and sin; and
determined to pardon others.

4 Julius Preuss, Biblical and Talmudic Medicine, trans. Fred Rosner (New York: Hebrew Pub.
Co., 1978), pp. 442-443.

Diane Osen Covkin 31

Interestingly, however, by the time HaShem reveals His Attributes,
He has already suggested that residence in the kingdom of the sick may
await those who fail to follow His ways. When Benei Yisra’el complain about
bitter water after their miraculous crossing of the Yam Suf, HaShem
promises He “will put none of the diseases on you which I have put upon
the Egyptians” – but only on condition that we heed His voice (Shemot
15:26). Similarly, if Benei Yisra’el destroy all the idols in Eretz Cana’an,
HaShem promises to “bless your bread, and your water; and I will take
sickness away from the midst of you. None shall miscarry, nor be barren, in
your land; the number of the day I will fulfill.” (Shemot 23:24-26). Many of
us have been taught to infer that failing these tests may expose the Jewish
people to the revocation of HaShem’s protection – and in consequence, to
unspeakable illnesses, hunger and thirst, infertility and early death.

In the Torah, the most striking example of illness as a metaphor
for transgression is tzara’at, a mysterious affliction that strikes homes,
clothing and people. There are no fewer than eight mitzvot linked to this
divine rebuke, and the Torah devotes much of two parshiot (Tazria and
Metzora) to detailing the many physical manifestations of tzara’at; how it is
diagnosed by a kohen; its designation as a form of tumah, a state of ritual
impurity; the mandatory banishment from the camp of those afflicted with
certain forms of tzara’at; the purification rites a metzora must perform once
healed; and the sacrifice he or she must bring in expiation. Although this
malady is most often associated with the sin of lashon harah, or slander, it
was also understood by Chazal as a punishment for idolatry, blasphemy,
murder, acts of sexual immorality, perjury, arrogance, greed, theft and

Significantly, all of these sins result not only from the utter failure
to love others as we love ourselves, but from the arrogant belief that our
own moral judgment is superior to that of HaShem. Given the great
number of grievous sins with which tzara’at is identified – and the virtual
impossibility of hiding either its symptoms or the after-effects of
purification – it is hard to imagine a more shameful illness, or one that
serves as a more striking symbol of sinfulness.

As if to highlight the link between tzara’at and transgression, in
parashat BeHa’alotecha the Torah offers a surprisingly detailed account of the
affliction of Miriam, who is punished by HaShem after she speaks lashon
harah about Moshe. Her sin is so great that HaShem Himself exhorts Benei
Yisra’el to remember it as they prepare to enter Eretz Cana’an (Devarim

5 Id. at pp. 337-338.

32 Rei’ach HaSadeh

24:9). In his Mishneh Torah, the Rambam declares that we are obliged to
remember her sin for all time; for if a person as great as Miriam could
succumb to slander, we ordinary Jews must be even more vigilant about
avoiding the same temptation. Others who may have suffered this divine
punishment include David HaMelech, King Uziyahu, Vashti and Iyov; and
King Chizkiyahu is believed to have been saved by HaShem from the
similarly mysterious skin ailment shechin.

Because ailments involving the hidden parts of our bodies are
much more difficult to detect, it is understandable why HaShem chose to
identify some sinners by striking them with tzara’at: to demonstrate, as it
were, that the most critical factor affecting our physical and spiritual health
is the degree to which our actions are extrinsic or intrinsic to Torah values.
Thus, when Moshe sins at the Burning Bush by protesting that Benei Yisra’el
will not believe or listen to him, Rashi tells us that HaShem strikes him
briefly with tzara’at (Shemot 4:1). Conversely, by the time Moshe descends
from Har Sinai with the second luchot, he returns with a very different, and
indelible, mark on his skin. Thanks to his singular encounter with the
ineffable incandescence of the Shechinah, his face has become so radiant that
he must wear a mask or veil so as not to frighten Benei Yisra’el (Shemot
4:30-32). It is hard to imagine a more dazzling divine distinction, or one
that serves as a more splendid symbol of spiritual purity.

Of course, tzara’at no longer exists, and its prevalence in the first
millennia of our history as a nation cannot be determined. What is certain,
however, is that this illness endures in Jewish tradition both as a metaphor
for sin and as a tangible manifestation of Divine displeasure – and for very
good reason. As HaShem explains Himself, “I kill and I make alive, I
wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of My hand”
(Devarim 32:39). Less dramatically, Chazal teach, “No man bruises his
finger here on earth unless it was so decreed against him in heaven”
(Chullin 7b). The fear that any illness may be a divine rebuke for
transgression – rather than the exclusive result of genetics, or exposure to
viruses or bacteria, fungi or poisons, poverty or a poor diet – has prompted
generations of parents who may never even have heard of tzara’at to
reprove children who carelessly bang an elbow with the admonition, “G-d
is punishing you!”

Diane Osen Covkin 33

It is no wonder, then, that one of the first prayers all faithful Jewish
parents teach their children is Modeh Ani; our first task of the day must be
to thank HaShem for restoring our bodies and souls after sleep, and to
acknowledge that awe of HaShem precedes all other wisdom. For the same
reason, the siddur is replete with prayers that express our belief that
everything comes from HaShem, including our health. Among myriad
examples, perhaps the most notable is the bracha in the daily Amidah in
which we beg HaShem, “Heal us, HaShem – then we will be healed; save us
– then we will be saved, for You are our praise. Bring complete recovery for
all our ailments. For You are G-d, King, the faithful and compassionate
Healer. Blessed are You, HaShem, who heals the sick of His people Israel.”

In his multi-part shiur “Understanding the Shmoneh Esrei,” Rav
Ezra Bick of Yeshivat Har Etzion analyzes each component of this berachah,
noting its many textual anomalies. Why the tautological formulation, “Heal
us” and “we will be healed”? Why is HaShem praised as the Healer of His
people Israel, rather than the Healer of all? Among the answers he offers,
Rav Bick explains that if “our lives are based on the connection to G-d,
then we will be healthy.” 6 But what if that connection appears to be
severed? To answer that question, he offers the interpretations of two of
our most distinguished mefarshim:

Rashi explains that ‘ne’emanim’ means that the diseases and
plagues [which HaShem put on the Egyptians] will
faithfully fulfill their mission of punishment; in other
words, you will really suffer from them. The Ibn Ezra
suggests that ‘faithful' diseases are ‘incurable and
permanent.’ This would imply that ‘refu’ah ne'emanah,’
faithful healing, means a permanent cure. This is
apparently the understanding of R. Yehuda b. Yakar, who
quotes the midrash about the freeing of a bird as part of the
cleansing of a metzora, which states: Just as the bird will not
return, so the plague will not return, as is written, ‘For I
am HaShem your healer.’7

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein z”l, one of the founders of Yeshivat Har
Etzion, would surely have agreed that teshuvah (repentance) is the only cure
for an otherwise incurable affliction like tzara’at; for what ensures that the
bird sacrificed by the metzora will not return physically is the spiritual return

6 Ezra Bick, “Understanding the Shemoneh Esrei: Shiur #13: Health,” The Israel
Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash, available at
7 Ibid.

34 Rei’ach HaSadeh

of the metzora. “Unpalatable as this might be, theologically and
philosophically,” Rav Lichtenstein observed, it is a bedrock principle of
Judaism that “human suffering be traced to the initiative of the Ribbono Shel
Olam, or failing that, to the untrammeled operation of other forces, natural
or human, in the absence of His protective shield.”8 Moreover, the Torah
obligates us to repent when we are stricken by personal or collective
calamity, and “clearly places teshuvah in the context of crisis – not only the
intrinsic crisis of sin and consequent alienation from G-d but the external
crisis that results therefrom.” 9 We may infer, then, that teshuvah is a
necessary first step in securing HaShem’s alleviation of any illness – curable
or permanent, physical or spiritual.

Teshuvah, of course, is a practice that faithful Jews are meant to
undertake continually. On Yom Kippur and other chagim, we intensify our
pleas for collective forgiveness by reciting the Thirteen Divine Attributes of
Mercy, to remind HaShem of His pledge to us in His own words. When we
entreat HaShem to forgive us for our individual sins on weekdays, we begin
the Tachanun prayer by repeating the words of David HaMelech: “HaShem,
do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chastise me in Your rage. Favor me,
HaShem, for I am feeble; heal me, HaShem, for my bones shudder. My soul
is utterly overwhelmed, and You, HaShem, how long?” (Tehillim 6:2-4)
The mizmor’s physical and spiritual pain is a recurrent theme in Tehillim, but
what distinguishes them is David’s faith that HaShem will accept
his teshuvah and ease his suffering; his gratitude for HaShem’s beneficent
protection; and his praise for HaShem’s goodness. To invoke HaShem’s
faithful healing; we evoke David’s faith, gratitude and praise. In fact, a Jew
unwilling to try to embody these traits or to perform teshuvah may be said to
misapprehend altogether what it means to be a Jew.

It is precisely because we believe implicitly in both divine
protection and divine punishment that so many of us race to check
our mezuzot when we are stricken by misfortune; why we immediately
undertake a more thorough cheshbon haNefesh, or spiritual accounting; why
we redouble our determination to repent for our sins and praise HaShem
for His blessings; why we start devoting a portion of every day to reciting
the Tehillim said to be most efficacious in prompting Divine intercession at
times of trouble. Notably, the Mishnah teaches that we must bless HaShem
for the bad exactly as we bless Him for the good (Berachot 54a), so in trying
to attain greater heights of emunah (faith), we are simply doing our duty as
Jews. Of course, if our troubles are physical in nature we must seek out

8 Aharon Lichtenstein, Leaves of Faith: The World of Jewish Learning (Jersey City, NJ: KTAV
Pub. House, 2003-2004), p. 129.
9 Id. at pp. 124-125.

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